Transformed by Perspective, Interpretation, and Compassion

Decisions 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Years ago, I was interviewed on television news stations by reporters after someone killed themselves, especially if the individual was a teenager or younger. My background included directing a suicide prevention hotline and counseling people who were experiencing suicidal thoughts in a clinic setting.

One reporter frequently interviewed me. She was always very professional and directed her questions about what people can do to prevent suicides and how to help loved ones when a suicide occurred.

She was one of those reporters you probably have seen with her hair coiffed, perfect attire, attractive in the classical TV personality way, and always expressing a professional attitude.

Uncharacteristically after an interview on camera, she pulled me aside away from the television crew.

“I don’t understand how someone can become so distressed and depressed that they want to kill themselves. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

I shared my thoughts behind the reasons that people can become so despondent that they view suicide as their only reasonable alternative.

“I don’t think I will ever understand how someone would throw away their life when there were always alternatives and possibilities and support to help them move forward in their life.”

She described her idyllic childhood and acknowledged she was unable to relate to suicide as a means of reacting to stress.

I offered her my years of professional experience working with people who had reached their mental and emotional limits and viewed suicide as their last resort. I could tell that she was unable to relate to their desperation. She was interpreting their behavior from a more intellectual perspective.

A few months later, I was again interviewed by the same reporter after someone in the city committed suicide. She was as usual very professional and objective in her television interview questions, but I sensed something was different.

The interview took place in my backyard near a paddock where our horses lived, and she asked if we could walk around the paddock and away from the camera crew. I was curious about what she wanted to talk about. I waited patiently as we silently walked.

“I get it now. I understand how someone can reach such a level of despair that a person does not feel it’s possible to ever get past the feelings of desperation and helplessness.”

She then haltingly described a recent personal experience that shook her to the core resulting in her feeling for the first time in her life suicidal. It was an amazing transformation of this always professional person who prided herself on perfection, now privately exhibiting her vulnerability in all of her honesty and sensitivity.

I supported her moving beyond her traumatic reactions and finding ways to embrace the changes necessary so that she could move forward in a natural, grounded direction.

The next time she came to interview me about a young person who had killed herself, I noticed that her interview approach was different. There was a depth of compassion and understanding that had not been there before. Her questions had changed, and her responses, while still professional, were more personal and meaningful.

We never spoke about how she was different, and we didn’t need to have that discussion. It was a life transformed by perspective, interpretation,  and compassion. Every interview with me that followed, she asked more in-depth questions, a meaningful eye connection emerging from her soul, and the partial smile that she shared with me said it all.

Welcome Home

wall copy1

Bewilderment detachment; solemnly praying,
Ceremonial Presidential Wreath’s a-laying.
Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown,
Honoring the loss of Americans we bemoan.

Taps painfully playing; hearing a solitary bugle,
Accompanying the rat ta tat tat; the drum so regal.
Cascading tears bathing my flushed cheek,
The longer I stand, the more I’m growing weak.

Jo, a Vietnam Memorial Wall volunteer,
Recognizing the familiar gleam of fear,
Offering help up that emotional climb,
“Some vets don’t make it their first time.”

Pausing beside a letter, set against cool black marble,
Words piercing my heart like pieces of shrapnel.
A dispatch from Jo, to her husband, Bill,
The message passionate: my body expels a chill.

Reflections casting shadows over Bill’s name,
On the polished granite self-proclaimed.
We are weighing the wounds of war,
Comforting each other, and too many before.

Jo, Whispering, “Welcome home,” without pretense.
Feelings welling inside me with a vengeance.
Moving, moving without belonging: needing to roam,
Two decades passing; maybe now coming home.

Fourteen months of duty, then 20 years shutdown,
Jo hugging tightly: our tears kissing the ground.
Tracing names for many a veteran friend,
Too few years left; too much to mend.

A silver POW/MIA bracelet placed on my wrist,
“I’ve never taken this off,” exclaims Jo in earnest.
Col. Robert L. Standerwick Sr., the bracelet proclaims,
On the Wall a diamond, the uncertainty of his remains.

Pacing a moonlit path, painfully alone,
Endless names bathed in light: etched forever in stone.
Haunting Vietnam memories revived,
Endless names survive.

Emerging from a deathlike dream,
Eerie consciousness in an audible stream.
An unforgettable song latched in time and space,
“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.”

Feeling drawn to a crying woman looking askew,
Tearing a piece of my last dry tissue.
Sharing a tender offering,
Each new song reviving memories of warring.

This woman expressing calm enlightenment,
Hugging me with abandonment.
Tears mingling in loving suction,
A reprieve of war’s self-destruction.

A hand from behind grabs my shoulder,
I know the reach; it’s from a former soldier.
Reminding me when life was bloody.
He calls out, “Welcome home, buddy.”

An unplanned march to the Laotian Embassy,
Protesting the POW/MIA conspiracy.
Needing to go not sure how or why
Must go for those names that will not die.

Faces painted symbolically white,
Carrying burning candles of spiritual light.
Singing fervent songs and chanting,
Embassy personnel: concealed–not recanting.

Waiting to hear from Lynn, a hush in the air,
Protesters listening with rapt attention.
Sharing of her father’s loss in Laos while flying,
Shear strength keeps her from crying.

Speech over, Lynn now sitting silently,
Near the steps of the Laotian Embassy.
Pushing past the Washington police,
I’m sitting beside her now, near release.

Illuminating the bracelet drawn by the dim light of her candle,
Staring into the eyes of each other, more than either can handle.
Name on the Bracelet…that of her father,
An hour and then- embracing each other.

Back at the Wall of war; seeking a touch of peace.
Nearly one a.m.; will this dream ever cease?
Time; that unforgiving nemesis,
Oh God! Release the genesis.

Three A.M. and God-forsaken,
Writing a grieving letter–twenty years and still so shaken.
Pinning it on the Wall with a twig, wet and broken,
The message is profound, the gesture…. a token.

A poem I wrote on the plane home about 6 am of some of my experiences visiting the Vietnam Wall the first time in Washington on Veteran’s Day 1979, after 20 years serving a 14-month Vietnam U.S. Army tour of duty.  As powerful as this portion is, I will present a more extended narrative of the incredible total pilgrimage to the Vietnam Wall in another post. The image is of me, and Jo as I was getting something from my backpack to leave at the Wall, photographed unknown to us by one of her friends. She mailed the photograph to me about a month later.

© 1989 Stephen Bruno

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone” – The Kingston Trio

My new acoustic guitar 2019 © Stephen Bruno

I had a guitar in the early 1970s, and I was teaching myself how to play while a counselor at a free clinic in California. After guiding a young man from committing suicide, I loaned him my guitar for inspiration. It must have worked as he never returned it, and I felt he needed it more than I did.

It is 49 years later and time for me to follow that initial passion of mine. One goal is to learn how to play meaningful songs on the guitar and lead the diverse groups that I teach in singing folk songs, including some of my original songs telling relatable stories and fusing some with other genres.

Yesterday I purchased an acoustic Breedlove guitar and took my first one-hour lesson. An injury to my shoulder and surgery on my thumb creates an obstacle that I am embracing. Yes, and being 70 years old while learning how to play the guitar perhaps poses another challenge.

I believe that my passion is greater than the challenges, and in time, I will be joyfully singing along with the people in the gatherings while playing the guitar.

Embracing New Adventures

They are packing and are moving to Cedaredge with me.

The end of this year and the beginning of the new year brings many adventurous changes in my life and hopefully for yours. I’ve always told friends that the only fear I have is remaining the same tomorrow as I am today. Perhaps, this is why I’ve been a risk-taker my entire life.

I’m moving very soon from Grand Junction, Colorado to my new mountain home in Cedaredge, Colorado where the Grand Mesa’s southern slopes meet the Uncompahgre and Gunnison River valleys. The charming mountain town offers friendly neighbors, orchards, and access to dozens of trout lakes. I love that the town has only one traffic signal and just a few historic downtown blocks of diverse small businesses.

Late fall brings bushels of apples on the town’s many trees. The large apple tree in my backyard brings dozens of deer to nibble on the apples. I look forward to connecting with them and taking some photographs to share. This past October, I attended the annual Applefest held at the Cedaredge Town’s Park within walking distance from my new home. Applefest brings over 20,000 people and it is free to attend. I had an amazing time visiting the over 200 vendors, wonderful music, and tasting the delicious food.

Cedaredge genuinely feels like stepping into a Hallmark movie with a sense of community, natural beautiful surroundings, and a wonderful quality of life. Yes, I know, I’m a hopeless romantic, and I do enjoy the Hallmark Christmas movies this time of year. I can believe in experiencing the magic of Christmas. Seriously, wouldn’t you want to have this pleasure? Moving to Cedaredge means I can have the pleasure all year long.  I believe in sharing community with compassion. Today I arranged to volunteer as a server for the Cedaredge Christmas dinner this year. Over 300 people are expected. The cost is a donation but not required. The dinner location is within walking distance of my new home.

Just 15 minutes or so from the town on the Grand Mesa Scenic Byways there are old-growth forests, aspens, meadows and 300 beautiful lakes that lead to the Grand Mesa mountain. I’m planning on taking countless color digital and black and white film photographs of wildlife and nature throughout the four seasons to share. This is one of the reasons I wanted to move to Cedaredge.

One immediate change is that I am honoring my values and principles and I am closing out my Facebook accounts effective today. For a while now, I have been concerned about the direction the Facebook company is moving. From the company’s reactions rather than responses to the community’s trust concerns, I do not believe that Facebook will institute necessary positive changes anytime soon. Nevertheless, I’ll share on this blog, the same positive posts I have on Facebook.

I am encouraging my supportive friends on Facebook to connect and follow me by registering on this blog. You’ll receive an email notice every time I share a new post on the blog. You can now view photographs that I have frequently posted on FB for many years on my photography website at Stephen Bruno Photography. My newest photographs are in the Recent Photo Shoot gallery. The benefit is rather than a select few images I’ve posted on Facebook, you can now see many more images from my photo shoot.

Next year is the time I plan to publish several novels, nonfiction books and poetry, and short stories that I’ve been working on for an eternity. Well, at least it seems that way. I know that I have more wrinkles, less hair, and more bags under my eyes than when I began these books. The beautiful charming mountain atmosphere, wild critters, and friendly people can contribute to my creativity and productivity.

To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.

~Gilbert K. Chesterton 1874-1936, British Author

Not Exactly My Finer Moments.

Mallard Duck, 2016 © Stephen Bruno

Many years ago, I was the Publisher and Editor of the Arizona Literary Review, a monthly literary, art, and photography magazine. Today I was sorting through some of my papers for better organization when I found a copy of the June 1992 issue of the magazine. It was a bit of nostalgia to look through Arizona Literary Review.

While looking at this June issue this morning, I valued high-quality literary, art, and photography that people submitted. When I created the magazine, I imagined that it would eventually reach across the country. I had no idea that people as far away as Paris, France would subscribe and send their submissions, including well-established authors.  As a writer, artist, and photographer It was a pleasure providing opportunities for contributors to be published, some for the first time. Decades later, I happened to meet a neighbor who reminded me that I published his photography in the first issue of the Arizona Literary Review. This visibility started his professional career, and he became a renown photographer.

I read an article in the issue that I wrote in my column, From the Publisher & Editor titled, I Fell in Love with Marie Antoinette, about imagination, creativity, and sometimes not taking ourselves too seriously. I would like to share this with you in my blog post as I believe there is still some relevance.

When we fall in love, I believe that the latent characters who normally reside passively within our psyche suddenly emerge. Our emotions intensify creating illusions of reality. Romantic songs play “just for us,” and the world revolves around our immediate needs and desires. You know the sense when the flowers are brighter, the air is crisper, and the birds sing sweeter.

With creativity, passion is also aroused and inhibited, equally often without satisfactory resolution. The quality of this relationship to creativity determines how we share our passion. Sometimes it is expressed by writing, photography, painting, dance, or music.

There are moments when I can recall a furtive glance by an inquisitive squirrel; the whooshing sound of wind embracing the tall pines; the distinctive aroma of summer blossoms, and cherished memories for a high school sweetheart. The haunting words and melodic rhythm of the 60s song, We got to get out of this place, revive the indelible melancholy and mania for my 14-month tour of duty in Vietnam. Then these memories vaporize just as suddenly.

My passion is to understand how this lingering tenderness in such sensorial experiences manifests itself in unrestricted drawing, painting, writing, and photography. I feel drawn into and captivated by this intimate involvement with my raw emotions in an undefined desire for creativity.

The arduous process of establishing an authentic relationship with creativity is an intimate, passionate process. Having our work published is a collective external experience. Poetry, fiction, photography, music, dance, and drama caress the heart soul and spirit. As an artist, writer, and photographer I appreciate the creative depth from others who also enjoy these mediums.

Relationships real or imagined are a wealth of resources for story, character, and plot development. Several years ago, I indifferently requested a book on Marie Antoinette through a popular book club. To my astonishment, I identified with her struggles, dreams, losses, adventures, letters, and trauma dramas.

I began writing a historical novel reflecting on the essence of Marie Antoinette.  The positive elements of her life and personality that are less known. Sometime during that year, I fell in love with Marie Antoinette and rediscovered my creative passion soon after I published the Arizona Literary Review. Many years earlier as Editor-Chief of my college newspaper I produced the weekly publications with great enthusiasm, but without as much passion.

I believe that we stimulate our inspiration when we experience the unusual in the familiar. In my thirties, at an airline terminal, I sketched on an imaginary drawing pad the divergence of passengers waiting to board a flight. I observed their mannerisms, conversations, and facial features which I committed to memory for later retrieval in one of my novels.

Startled out of my reverie of character sketching, I heard the last few words of my flight’s departure announcement in the loudspeaker. Reaching for my portable art bin, I remembered that the drawings and art supplies were imaginary.

Feeling chagrined, I hurried past all the passengers to the front of the line along the tarmac towards the America West Airlines aircraft so that I could get the window seat that I preferred. At that time no one had assigned seating. Unlike at many airports today, everyone walked along the tarmac and climbed the mobile stairs to board the aircraft.

Consumed with my recent creative energy and overly stimulated imagination, I climbed the portable stairs leading to the aircraft’s forward cabin ahead of the other passengers. On the aircraft at the top of the stairs, a uniformed Flight Attendant politely greeted me and asked to see my airline ticket. With a curious appraisal of me, she suggested that this was not the correct aircraft that I wanted. Trying to nurture me through my confused gaze, she said that the flight I wanted was on the other side of the aircraft.

With a slight half-smile, she pointed to the last of the passengers on my flight who were on the tarmac walking to the other side of the aircraft. I couldn’t help myself I and asked if she was sure that this aircraft was not my flight. Once again, with a measure of infinite patience and smile, she said that she could assure me with absolute confidence that I was not going anywhere on this aircraft.

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Cross Between a Saber-Tooth Tiger and a Fire-breathing Dragon

Stephen Bruno

When I was in the first grade in elementary school in East Los Angeles, I had a serious accident outside the classroom. My symptoms included a nosebleed, swelling, bruising, crooked nose, black eyes, trouble breathing and a “cracking” sound when touching my nose.

I was rushed to the hospital by the school nurse who had me hold an ice pack on my nose. In the ER the doctors examined me and diagnosed severe facial fractures that included a broken nose, a septal perforation, and a deviated septum. They decided that I required immediate surgery.

I was prepped for surgery, given a local anesthetic and quickly brought to the operating room. The surgical nurses positioned me on my back, and I remained awake for hours watching several otolaryngologists working on my nose. Whenever the local anesthetic wore off, I let them know, and they provided more help that I appreciated. The operation was all a surreal experience especially since I was only six years old.

After the lengthy and intensive operation, a surgical nurse and several orderlies brought me to a post-surgery recovery room for monitoring. A splint was made to hold the nasal tissues in place until it stabilized and to protect the nose from accidental bumps when I slept and help it heal normally.

The next day, the nurses brought me to a children’s ward for recovery. The ward was a large rectangular open room with many children my age and a little older lying in their beds. Thirteen years later I was reminded of this setting after being drafted and sharing a similar large room with wall-to-wall beds during Basic Training at Fort Ord, California. The doctors told me that I would remain in the ward until I began to heal for several days, weeks or longer.

The kids could tell by the bandages on my nose and the sterile strips of gauze hanging out of each nostril that I recently experienced nose surgery. Of course, after the anesthesia wore off, I was in a lot of pain and continued to receive pain medication and antibiotics during my stay on the ward.

I began to get to know each of the kids in the ward out of curiosity and the means of distraction from the ever-present pain. Eventually, I found out that each of the children in the ward had a terminal illness and most of them had lived on the ward for months and some longer. It didn’t take long for me to feel humbled by their tragic medical circumstances while I only had a broken nose that required healing. I didn’t know what my nose would look like after the surgery and recovery. However, I knew my life was not in imminent or probable danger from the nose fracture.

I was very impressed with each of the kids and how they handled the challenges of immense pain, isolation from their family, countless medical tests, and insufferable boredom. I learned a lot about myself and other people that have lasted a lifetime from this experience that transcended the surgical trauma and recovery.

When finally, I was released from the hospital and sent home for more weeks of recovery, everyone in the children’s ward including the nurses shared a heartfelt sendoff. It was a bittersweet time given that some child abuse issues were waiting for me when I returned home.

During my recovery at home, there was still considerable bruising as well as swelling, and I had to make sure that my head was elevated, especially when sleeping or lying down to prevent further or prolonged swelling of the nose. I had to continue with the long strips of gauze hanging down out of my nostrils to soak up the blood. I imagined looking like a cross between a Saber-Tooth Tiger and a fire-breathing dragon. Nonetheless, I couldn’t stop thinking about the kids and especially some of the boys I talked with the most.

I still have a deviated septum, and my nose never quite looked the same. I have received comments like, “Your nose is an interesting conversation piece.” Although I am uncertain of exactly what that means, I have gracefully adopted my new nose.

After more of my recovery, I gathered up all my classic plastic green army men soldiers with a few military vehicles and accessories. I asked my mom to take me back to the children’s ward and wait in the lobby. Talking with the nurses who kindly remembered me, I was sad to hear that some of my newfound friends had died from their illness since I last saw them. It was too heartbreaking to give the toys in person, so I arranged with the nurses to anonymously share the gifts with my remaining friends and to see that everyone received something to sustain their playfulness during the countless boredom.

Frequently over the years, I’ve thought a lot about my time on that ward and each of the kids. We shared life and death conversations only young children with a terminal illness can have. It certainly puts into perspective the traumas that we must face when we think of what others must endure, and I began to embrace unconditional compassion as a lifestyle to the best of my capacity.

Compassion on a Lonely Road at Midnight

2018 © Stephen Bruno

I am old enough and well-traveled to have earned every wrinkle in my face, bags under my eyes, scars on my body, silver in my hair, and nose marks from my eyeglasses frames. Sometimes I feel that I am living the life within the novel, On the Road, by Jack Kerouac.

But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

My curiosity has guided me to diverse paths from pleasure to pilgrimage. Each journey brought wonderment. I have lived and worked in diverse areas including Sedona, Arizona; Lake Tahoe, Nevada; San Luis Obispo, California; Crestline, California; Monterey, California; Phoenix, Arizona; Ashland, Oregon; the Oregon Coast; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Truches, New Mexico; Reno, Nevada; Austin, Texas; Prescott, Arizona; San Antonio, Texas; Seattle, Washington; Grand Junction, Colorado and more.

I have lived on an island, in the low and high deserts, at the top of an 8,000-foot mountain, next to the ocean, on a boat, in forests, in houses or apartments, in a mobile home, by lakes, in big cities, small towns, and rural areas.

About seven months ago I decided to begin another journey. I drove my recently purchased car from Prescott, Arizona to Grand Junction, Colorado to look for a house to rent. Sight unseen, I selected Grand Junction for my belief in the friendly people, amazing wildlife, and beautiful nature. I wanted a new area to explore and photograph while I taught Reiki certification classes, provided telephone Life Coaching sessions, and taught wildlife and nature photography. I especially wanted a location where I could complete my novels and nonfiction books and prepare them for publication.

It was time to visit the city of my next home. I got up early, and after driving about eight hours, I arrived in Grand Junction and briefly looked around the area. I immediately felt that this would be home. I checked into a comfortable hotel and quickly fell asleep. Early the next morning I met with a real estate agent at a house for rent that I found online while in Prescott. Time was of the essence, and I knew I still had another 8 hours’ drive back the next morning to complete packing for my relocation.

I received a quick tour of a ranch-style 3-bedroom house on an acre, and I decided to rent it without looking further. I spent the remainder of the day exploring Grand Junction and getting a sense of what would become my new home in a few short weeks. I stayed that night at the hotel and drove the eight hours back to Prescott early the next morning.

Several weeks later I planned on driving back to Grand Junction. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we plan. The people I hired to load the truck in Prescott arrived several hours late which meant that by the time I got on the road I’d be lucky to arrive in Grand Junction by 3 AM. Although a good friend of mine would follow me later that night in a rental truck with the bulk of my belongings, I also thoroughly packed my midsized car with electronics, clothes and fragile items. The plan was to sleep that night at a hotel in Grand Junction and meet my friend with the truck in the morning to unpack at my new home.

This third trip was a drive I was familiar with even though much of it was during the late evening on roads void of many vehicles, towns or houses. I listened to music, audiobooks, talk radio, and old-time radio dramas. The only brief stops were at gas stations to fill up the car and get a quick snack I could safely eat while driving.

Around midnight I was driving along an isolated area in a different state with only the dark road and radio for companionship. I was enjoying a snack, thinking about how tired I was and contemplating how much farther I had to drive. Nonetheless, I was excited about living in a new area where I didn’t know anyone and had only briefly visited, and especially the wonderful adventures ahead of me.

Suddenly, my vehicle’s high beam headlights illuminated the highway patrol car parked on the other side of the two-way road, facing the way I came. I held my breath and reluctantly glanced at my speedometer. Oh Man! Was I way over the speed limit! I removed my foot from the gas pedal and waited for the inevitable flashing red lights. I didn’t have long to wait, and with resignation, I pulled off the road.

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